In what could prove to be a pivotal day at the Candidates tournament, Viswanathan Anand defeated Veselin Topalov while rivals Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik crashed to upset defeats in round nine. The results left Anand a full point clear at the top with five rounds to go. Aronian, in second place, is in fact effectively a point and a half behind as he lost his personal encounter with Anand and hence a tied first would be of no benefit. Kramnik is a point and a half behind in third, along with Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the two unsung heroes of the day.
Anand played e4 with white and Topalov replied with the Sicilian Najdorf, an opening that is not new to either player. Topalov had empoyed the Najdorf to good effect when he was near his peak, between 2005 and 2010. Anand too considers the Najdorf one of his pet openings, and has been used to playing it at the highest level, as early as during the Classical World Championship match against Garry Kasparov in 1995. The last decisive game between the two also saw a Najdorf, which, ominously, had been won by Anand last year.
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Topalov’s choice to go for the attacking Najdorf was understandable, considering he needed a win to keep his hopes in the tournament alive. Anand may have wanted a peaceful game, considering he was already in the joint lead at the start of the round and he did not have too many tough matches ahead, but the Indian was not in a passive mood today. Anand deviated from the main line in the sixth move with the relatively unknown ‘Adams attack.’ Topalov was not too worried though and continued to reel off the moves.
The game seemed to come to boil when Anand made a few commital pawn moves on the king side, getting in h4 and then g5 in the 10th and 11th move. At this stretch, Topalov took 33 minutes to play out three moves, but managed to find the more or less critical reply each time.
The position was still equal, despite white’s advancing king side pawns. Anand had a space advantage and his pawn structure was stable. For black, there were weaknesses — his backward pawns on e6 and b7, but there was no immediate way in which white’s queen and bishop, the only major pieces left for either side, could take advantage.
The players, discussing the game in the press conference later, more or less agreed that white’s position was pleasant but not clearly winning.
Here, Topalov played a seemingly innoccous move, 31. h6, trying to trade off one of white’s advanced pawns. Added to the problem of defending pawns in three seperate chaings, Topalov’s king became exposed after the pawn exchange. Anand’s queen and bishop were now better than Topalov’s, having more targets to attack.
Closing it out
Eventually, Anand simplified into a winning queen pawn ending with an extra pawn. He took his time closing out the win, realising perhaps the significance of the win. Not just was he in no risk of losing his lead, but if he had looked into the other boards, would have realised that there was a very good chance his lead was going to widen.
Aronian was out-prepared in the topical Nimzo Indian Defence with 4. f3 by Mamedyarov. The Azeri offered to go down an exchange in an unclear position where both kings were not safe. Here Aronian opted to push his queen side pawns down the board. This caused white problems, but it was too ponderous because white had by then connected pawns on the sixth and seventh ranks, and in the vicinity of the black king. By the time Aronian gathered his resources around to stave off mating attacks, he had gone two pawns down and resigned in 44 moves.
Kramnik fell in more straight-forward fashion to Karjakin, who had more or less ended Peter Svidler’s hopes in the tournament with a win in the previous round. Karjakin went for a rare side line in an opening that transposed into a Semi-Slav structure and was rewarded for it when Kramnik blundered very early to lose a pawn with no compensation.
Kramnik’s position was bad and steadily detoriarated until the Russian went two pawns down and was forced, despite trying to hang on for long, to resign a one-sided game in 64 moves.
Round nine results:
Peter Svidler (3.5) drew with Viswanathan Anand (4), Sergey Karjakin (2.5) lost to Levon Aronian (3.5), Dmitri Andreikin (2) bt Veselin Topalov (3), Vladimir Kramnik (3) bt Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (3)
Rankings after round nine:
1. Anand (6), 2. Aronian (5), 3-5. Kramnik, Karjakin, Mamedyarov (4.5), 6-7, Andreikin, Svidler (4), 8. Topalov (3.5)